What To Expect

I practice poly-vagal informed EMDR.

But what does that look like in therapy?

We start on our first session with an assessment of what is happening in your life. This gives a clinical picture of what is going on and what you hope to get from therapy.

The poly-vagal approach emphasizes the importance of a feeling of safety as the leading indicator of mental health. Think about fight, flight or freeze. This is a way to treat the nervous system. Relaxed means cool, calm, and collected, “rest and digest;” anxious means “fight or flight;” unmotivated means “freeze.” I emphasize the feeling of safety in the body, immediate environment, and the world we live in. By safety, I mean physical and emotional safety, feeling open and safe with yourself and around other people, not nervous, worried, or shut down. We look for actions that lift you up from feeling shut down (up-regulating) and actions that calm you down from anxiety (down-regulating)

How does this work with EMDR?

We start by learning to be present, tapping the feet or hands right to left, slowly, in a way that is “down-regulating.” I invite you to imagine a place where you feel calm, peaceful, and secure, notice what positive emotions come up, and notice how stress and tension leave the body. 

Processing Trauma

Often, we don’t feel “safe” (in other words we feel shut down or anxious) due to things that happened in the past. The brain is an association machine. For example, red light equals “stop.” Green light equals “go.” Sometimes associations can adapt. For a happy youngster, the sounds of firecrackers can equal “a fun Fourth of July.” For a combat veteran, the sounds of firecrackers can equal “hide and run for cover.” The sounds of firecrackers could bring up the thought “I’m not safe,” or if someone was hurt, “It’s my fault,” and accompanying tightness or tension in the body.

The goal is to re-process the memories in a way that they make sense from a calm, secure point of view versus the state of stress or terror when the memories were formed. Re-processing can take away the power of memories to cause anxiety (fight or flight) or shut down (freeze). When you can look the past directly and feel ok, the present and future become much clearer.